Even in ruins [Tradeways] was a city of splendor. From the [Low Quarter] where traffic from the [Three Rivers of the North] flowed into the city, to the shining spires of the [Steelbones Castle], the city could boast of being one of the most beautiful cities in the [Fallen Kingdoms], even as that beauty burned.
“We have to re-open the gates,” General Ravendawn said. “The [3rd Allied Magical Infantry] is ready to come to our aid but they won’t get here before we lose the [Riverrun Walls] unless we gate them in.”
He wasn’t wrong. Princess De’celi could see the picture before them as clearly as anyone else in the war room who was studying the troops arrayed against them. Since it was her [Tactical Engagement Board] which [Tradeways] military commanders were clustered around, she suspected she could see more than they could even.
Which was the problem.
“We have the [Teleportation Gates] on standby,” De’celi said. “We cannot open them yet though. Not until we have the [Central Market Place] secured.”
“Your Higness, I know this is all new to you,” General Tarksis began before De’celi cut him off by slapping the measuring stick in her hand against the board’s surface.
“The enemy has troops which are both flight and stealth capable,” De’celi said. “Their attack patterns indicate a focus on two areas. The [Teleportation Gates] and the [Collegium of the Red Sash].”
“But there’s no proof that they’ve sent those units in!” Tarksis countered, huffing himself up to his full height.
Watching him tower over the Princess made for a disturbing picture. He looked big enough to snap her like a twig. If she made the attempt however, De’celi resolved that she would show him his error without excessive dismemberment.
“The proof you ask for will come the moment the gates are turned on,” General Ravendawn said. “A stealth force will not be able to risk the gates being turned back off or destroyed if that’s their target.”
“Ravendawn! I thought you were in favor of opening the gates and getting us the forces we need!” Tarksis said.
“I am,” Ravendawn said. “But the Princess is also correct.”
“Well you can’t very well have it both ways,” Tarksis said.
“I most certainly can,” Ravendawn said. “What makes the enemy’s stealth forces so dangerous is that they will strike us when we are least expecting it. That advantage is diminished if we can dictate precisely when their attack will be launched.”
“What are you suggesting?” Tarksis asked. “We don’t have the men to set a defensive force around the gates and keep enough defenders on the walls.”
“I agree,” Tarksis said. “So let the walls go undefended.”
“That’s madness,” Tarksis said. “[Tradeways] will fall for sure.”
“No,” De’celi said. “It’s a workable strategy.”
“I’m glad you feel so, Your Highness,” Ravendawn said.
“Workable if our forces can overcome the [Stealth Units] the Consortium army has sent in,” De’celi said. “That’s a significant gamble, and I dislike the odds on it.”
“I could join the defense team around the gates if that would set your mind at ease?” Ravendawn said.
“It would not,” De’celi said. “You’re needed here.”
In part because De’celi was concerned she might eviscerate Tarksis if there wasn’t a voice of reason in the room to help deal with Tarksis’ condescending stupidity.
“If the town falls, we will rebuild,” De’celi said. “The castle however cannot fall. For any reason. We’re harboring every noncombatant from the city. If it comes to that, I and everyone in this room will give their lives to ensure that the castle’s gate can be opened long enough to evacuate our people, and then we will destroy the gates forever.”
“It would be an hour to die beside you,” Ravendawn said. His voice was light and cheerful but not insincere.
Tarksis nodded weakly in agreement as did the handful of other generals and their aides who coordinating [Tradeways] defense.
“It is to be hoped however, that circumstances will not become quite that dire,” Ravendawn continued. “The Consortium taking the [Riverrun Walls] is a given at this point, but that’s a far cry from taking the city.”
“But we don’t even need to give them that much,” Tarksis mumbled.
“You are correct,” De’celi said, disinclined to ignore his comments. “We could hold the [Riverrun Walls] for another day, perhaps two, if we send the bulk of our reserves to reinforce it. That would buy time for what again though?”
“All of the noncombatants have been evacuated already,” Ravendawn said as Tarksis began to sputter and back away from the table.
“Now that’s not why I’m…” Tarksis tried to say but De’celi cut him off again.
“Oh yes, I see that they have been. I guess there’s nothing to protect there then is there?” De’celi said. “Oh wait. We do have the warehouses along [Beggars Row]. Surely we should make time to unload their contents. If they’re filled with food we could withstand a siege for weeks longer than if we let them fall into the Consortium’s hands.”
“The good news is that according to these reports,” Ravendawn held a stack of papers up, “It looks like the warehouses are being unloaded. The bad news seems to be that they are only housing banking records.”
“You mean, banking records of the sort which the crown requires financial institutions to maintain identical copies in the crown’s libraries?” De’celi asked. She already knew exactly what was happening. Tarksis was desperate to cling to the real records of his family’s dealings as they absolutely included accounts which hadn’t been disclosed to the crown. Accounts which doubtless held the lionshare of his wealth and detailed the debts owed to him. Accounts which De’celi was going to be delighted to review once her father and mother weren’t trapped halfway around the world and shortly after the small problem of the invading army had been dealth it.
“Yes, which is why you might imagine I am in favor of selling the [Riverrun Walls] to the Consortium at an unfair rate and then moving our forces to a more defensible position,” Ravendawn said.
“I would be inclined to look favorably on that suggestion if our troops didn’t need the enchantments on the battlements to last more than thirty seconds in battle with the Consortium troops,” De’celi said. “Enchantments, which, I feel compelled to remind the room, the [Mercantile Council] has vetoed funding for any of the other gates in the city.”
“We have the gate in the castle,” Tarksis said, as though that was explanation enough for his lack of foresight.
“Yes, a gate which is locked to one destination so as to not compete with the commercial gates,” Ravendawn said. “A location, which, as a point of slight interest, does not currently possess a spare army they can send to support us.”
An young knight rushed into the room, breathless but holding out a small tablet with a secure communication crystal affixed to it.
“From the [Riverrun Walls],” the knight gasped out as she fought to catch her breath.
“Add it to the Tactical table,” De’celi said, addressing Ravendawn, who complied after unlocking it with his personal signet.
The tactical map changed, the forces becoming specific units all along the wall with dozens of annotations appearing over each major grouping.
“Summary,” De’celi commanded the Tactical board, causing a hologram of [Star Captain] Lushtiel, one of De’celi’s oldest friends, to appear in all her life size glory above the board.
“Hi De’celi”, the recording of Lushtiel said. “I’m going to need either another army or a recall order in about two hours.”
The recording gestured to the map of the forces beneath them.
“The Consortium’s moved up some of their [Heavies] and our archers are holding them back exactly not at all. I’ve got boiling oil, which they don’t seem to like, and our [Mage Corp] has been putting a dent in them, but they’re tapping out of mp faster and faster with each advance.”
The hologram paused and turned as though looking around the room.
“If that ass Tarksis is there still, tell him his house guard sends their love and affection. We found them carrying some boxes full of worthless paper, so we drenched them in oil, lit them on fire, and lobbed them at the last wave of attackers. I don’t think it did any real damage but it confused the hell out of them, which at least bought us an extra minute or two and gave me a hell of a laugh. [Star Captain] Lushtield out.”
De’celi had to suppress a grin at seeing the unhealthy shade of pale white that Tarksis had turned at learning the fate of his hidden ledgers.
“It’s possible our [Star Captain] is being optimistic,” Ravendawn said. He’d pushed the units on the Tactical board into a new configuration and De’celi could see the cause for his concern.
“They’ve been repositioning their [Flame Artillery] units along [Moonbrook Road],” De’celi said. “The wooden buildings behind the fortifications aren’t inside their range though.”
“Not yet,” Ravendawn said. “And they’re heaving aren’t advancing on the garrison point on [Moonbrook]. See what happens if they break through here though?”
He gestured towards the nearby [Saltcart Road].
“The fighting from [Saltcart] will fall back leaving the [Moonbrook] garrison cut off. They could hold out though, unless the [Heavies] break off from the main battle to focus on them,” De’celi said, studying the map in greater detail and quickly skimming the annotations for the area.
“Yes, which will spell doom for the garrison and give them a means of cutting off even more of our forces as the fires they set spread outwards and block off escape our roots,” Ravendawn said.
“Except they won’t,” De’celi said. “They don’t need to send all of the [Heavies] to take out the garrison. They can dispatch a small strike team to force the garrison troops to bunker down.”
“Oh,” Ravendawn said, concern rippling across his face. “Oh, that’s unpleasantly likely. That would allow them to continue to push forward along [Saltcart] and set half the [Low Quarter] on fire at the same time.”
“It is perhaps time to give the recall order then,” De’celi said. She hated the idea. Giving up the [Low Quarter] was going to costly even if all of its citizens were safe and secure in the castle.
Worse, while [Tradeways] defensive perimeter was designed to allow for a fighting retreat, each step backward that her forces took was an opportunity that could only be spent once and she was sure they hadn’t inflicted anywhere near the losses on the Consortium’s forces they needed to in order to ensure victory.
“We have time to work on other strategies,” Ravendawn said, no more pleased with their options than De’celi was.
“With each minute adding to the peril of the retreat,” De’celi said. “It will take them at least a quarter of an hour to arm all of the traps.”
“This is Lushtiel,” Ravendawn said. “I’m reasonably certain the traps are already armed.”
De’celi wanted to protest that her friend would never be as reckless as that but the words failed to even form on her tongue in the first place.
“All the more reason to give the order now,” De’celi said. “The longer our troops are around those traps, the more likely we are to see ‘friendly fire’ prove less than friendly.”
“I will send for a courier then,” Ravendawn said.
Before he could summon one though, another young knight appeared in the door, even more out of breath than the first.
“From the walls!” the knight wheezed out, presenting another secure tablet.
Ravendawn took it and unsealed the crystal without waiting for a formal order.
Once again [Star Captain] Lushtiel appear in hologram form above the Tactical board. Her easy confidence had been replaced by a look of deep confusion this time.
“Uh, De’celi, you should look at the troop situation outside our walls,” she said, gesturing ot the rapidly updating Tactical board.
De’celi couldn’t place what she was seeing for a moment.
At first it looked like the Consortium’s forces had somehow doubled.
It only took De’celi a second to notice that wasn’t the case though.
The newly arrived units were clearly Consortium forces.
At least in form and fighting capability.
But for some reason, and with rather frightening efficiency, they were ripping the Consortium forces which were besieging [Tradeways] to shreds.